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Baltimore County

Cyclist had overcome much, only to be killed in Towson hit-and-run

It's not that Stephanie Laciny thinks the portrait that has emerged of her son Aaron since he was killed by a hit-and-run driver while bicycling in Towson is wrong in any way.

News accounts have depicted him as a 20-year-old who in recent years discovered a gift for mathematics, leading to a research internship at an engineering lab at the Johns Hopkins University this summer.

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But it leaves out how much he had overcome to get to this point.

"I feel like his story can be inspiring to others who come from challenging backgrounds," said Stephanie Laciny, 56, sitting at a table in her South Baltimore rowhouse with a picture of her curly-haired son and a necessary box of tissues.

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"He came through so much, and he had so much success and had such a bright future," she said.

It is a painful story of learning difficulties and household turbulence that led to his parents' divorce, but it's also one of survival and even triumph.

Laciny is speaking publicly about Aaron for the first time since his death June 19. A reward of up to $2,000 is being offered for information that helps locate the driver who struck Aaron as he pedaled on North Charles Street, then left the scene. Another driver subsequently struck him, but stopped and called police.

The mother hopes the reward and a memorial ride scheduled for July 24 will keep attention on the case and lead to an arrest.

"It won't make a difference; my son is gone," she said. "But it is important to make this person pay so that the next person will be more careful."

As she deals with the aftermath of Aaron's death, she must juggle her large family's busy life. She still has six kids, including a foster child, who range in age from 14 to 22 and have a full schedule of swim meets, summer school and jobs.

Aaron's recent success came after many struggles, from having been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder as a child to what she describes as physical and emotional abuse by his father, including in 2011 when Joseph Laciny was arrested for allegedly assaulting Aaron. Joseph Laciny was ordered to counseling after getting probation before judgment. He said in an interview Monday he was verbally abusive to his then-wife, but did not abuse his children.

Stephanie Laciny says she left him several times temporarily, taking the kids and going back to her native Louisiana. When she returned in 2010, it was with a plan. Instead of home-schooling the children, she would send them to school, go to college herself and find a job. She ultimately earned a degree in accounting from the University of Baltimore and now works for the state Office of Legislative Audits.

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Aaron and his older brother Joe entered Baltimore Polytechnic Institute as 9th and 10th graders, respectively.

Aaron struggled at Poly, his mother said, but her "very smart and creative" son eventually "hit his stride" at Baltimore City Community College. There, professors delighted in his skills in math, science and research. He was about three weeks into a research internship at a Johns Hopkins University engineering lab at the time of his death.

Despite therapy, Aaron still had lingering vestiges of a difficult childhood, his mother said. She learned after his death that Aaron had kept journals for several years, but she hasn't been ready to read them. She did see one entry, where he was struggling to write an essay for a college scholarship.

"He had to promote himself as worthy, yet he felt like a piece of [garbage]," she said.

She tries to focus on the positive — all the people who have approached her with stories about Aaron, such as a woman in the neighborhood whom he would walk to her house if he saw her alone at night, or the Starbucks employees who said he was their favorite customer.

His brother Joe likes to remember Aaron's sillier side. They all grew up swimming, and sometimes Aaron would don a Speedo and with his friends ride longboards through the bar crowds of Federal Hill.

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While Joe is an avid bicyclist and works at a bike shop in Mount Washington, Aaron had only recently begun riding, mainly as a way to get around.

Since Aaron's death, Joe says he no longer rides on the roads, and either gets a ride to work, or stays with a friend who lives near the shop.

Aaron had hoped to go to a four-year college next year, and had plans to go camping in the Grand Tetons and bike to Maine after his Hopkins internship.

"We were just starting to map it out," Joe said.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jean_marbella


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